by Erin Geary
February 1, 2023
If you’ve ever watched an episode of Abbott Elementary, I was a white version of Janine. A passionate, naive, twenty-something teacher unleashed and ready to show my hard-work and dedication. I was going to be THE role model of a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teacher who was there to save young, untapped minds from being wasted.
However, there were things I didn’t factor into my overly optimistic fantasy. One was the initial parental mistrust of the new white teacher in a Bronzeville school. Another was my ignorance of the students’ home lives and neighborhood that loomed over even my best of teaching efforts. Still another was the behemoth known as CPS and its intractable system.
Over the course of my career, my wide-eyed optimism became rooted in reality. Still eager, my path led me from CPS to suburban public school teaching, adjunct professorship, and Catholic school teaching. I have taught virtually every grade level and enjoyed my profession so much that, post-retirement, I have come full circle by becoming a volunteer, after-school tutor for kids in the Woodlawn neighborhood.
But, to my dismay, nothing has changed.
No doubt, Covid lockdowns made things worse. But it’s been over thirty years, and I’m seeing the same issues with the same tired excuses.
So here I sit researching CPS, charter schools, and the Chicago Archdiocese schools thinking there’d be some light that can be passed to failing systems. But the more I dig, the more the stats confuse me. After all, any comparisons between these systems paints inaccurate pictures. For, each charter school in Chicago runs independently under the umbrella of the Chicago Board of Education; and, CPS uses different testing than the Archdiocese.
One thing is for sure. CPS spends a ridiculous amount of money annually on per pupil education—$29,000—and there are no returns on investment. The 2020-2021 Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR) scores state that 21.1% of CPS students met English/language arts (ELA) goals and 16.6% met math goals. Yet, miraculously, CPS boasted an on-time graduation rate of over eighty percent.
See my confusion? CPS is graduating groups of students who are considered reading and math literate only in third world countries, and we are expected to cheer.
The Chicago Teachers Union’s (CTU) solution? Throw more money at the problem. And our supposed budget conscious politicians are happy to oblige in order to gain the union’s endorsement. It’s truly criminal.
Chicago’s charter schools, on the other hand, were intended to be a panacea to provide stellar education to impoverished, minority students who struggled in traditional CPS settings.
Remember that each publicly funded school is a separate entity not part of a district. So, in reviewing the IAR scores for 2020-2021, the best school of the bunch was Intrinsic Charter High School which had 26.4% of their students meeting ELA goals and 21.8% meeting math goals (ilga.gov). True, they can spin this information by saying their scores are better than CPS, but charter schools aren’t moving kids ahead either.
Meanwhile, prior to Covid, the Archdiocese ACT Aspire scores (2019) were all above the national average across every discipline. Since Covid, the Archdiocese has been using i-Ready to measure student achievement. But i-Ready is not a standardized test. It is a computerized tool for teachers to show which kids need extra assistance at various points in the year.
Nevertheless, the Archdiocese did provide a general statement in 2021 attesting to the fact that Catholic school students met “academic expectations by staying on track with their learning” (archchicago.org).
What can we glean from this information?
A school’s performance has nothing to do with per pupil expenditure, advanced technology, or teacher salaries. If it did, then home schooled children would be at a huge disadvantage. Instead, it lies with greater parental involvement, low absenteeism rates, and expectations of excellence both academically and behaviorally.
Parents are the number one factor in their child’s educational success. Being present to hear them read or helping with homework doesn’t cost anything. But children also need to be at school on time each day. Equally, dysfunction at home rears its ugly head in a classroom. In short, a parent makes or breaks a child’s success in school.
As far as curricula, we need to go back to basics. Get social engineering and progressive curricula out of the schools. Math is not racist. Reading Shakespeare is not racist. Writing well is not racist. People who state these things deliberately want to maintain a perpetual underclass.
Most importantly, shrugging off abominable results from CPS and continuing to raise their budget is nonsensical. CPS, charter schools, and public/parochial schools are like businesses. All receive money for a service. Are you getting what you pay for? If not, sayonara.
This is why school choice and vouchers are the only ways to make meaningful changes.
Parents will decide the schools that serve their children’s needs best—even if that means the voucher goes to fund a parochial school. But here’s the caveat: Parochial schools must retain their independence from the government. Clearly, they are doing just fine.
Vouchers and school choice will force competition between public, private/parochial, and charter schools. That competition will be the only means to break CTU’s grip on the status quo and give children, especially those in poverty, a chance.
Since J.B. and Lori always say that each levy imposed is “for the children,” school choice and vouchers should be a no brainer.